Australia offers jail fees for death row duo in Indonesia

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Canberra, March 12: Australia refuses to give up hope that two of its nationals sentenced to death in Indonesia will be spared and has offered to pay the costs of the convicts' life sentences in jail, if they are granted clemency, according to media reports on Thursday.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made the offer in a letter sent to her Indonesian counterpart last week, reported The Sydney Morning Herald.

Fee for Aussies jailed in Indonesia

The Australian pair of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are set to face the firing squad in Indonesia after being arrested, along with the rest of their "Bali Nine" gang in 2005, for trying to smuggle 8.2 kg of heroin worth 40 billion rupiah (about $3.1 million) into Indonesia.

While the Australian government's attempts to get the lives of the two convicts spared have fallen on deaf ears so far, with the pair being transferred last week to Indonesia's "execution island" of Nusakambangan, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop was not giving up hope.

Her letter, addressed "My dear Retno", also formally made the "one-off" offer to swap Indonesian prisoners convicted of attempting to smuggle 390 kg of heroin into Australia.

She made the point that the Indonesian prisoners sought to import 47 times the amount of drugs Chan and Sukumaran and their co-convicted sought to smuggle into Australia.

"The Australian government would be prepared to cover the costs of the ongoing life imprisonment of Chan and Sukumaran, should a transfer not be possible," Bishop wrote.

"The vast majority of Australians very strongly support the government's efforts to seek clemency for Chan and Sukumaran."

The minister also warned: "We would not want to see their execution compromise the strong ties we have worked so hard to foster over many years."

However, the offer was formally rebuffed in a letter Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi wrote in response, three days later.

"Let me reiterate that there is no legal basis within the Indonesian law that would allow for such an exchange to take place," Marsudi wrote.

"The president is of the position that such an exchange cannot be undertaken."

Marsudi did not address Australia's offer to pay the life imprisonment costs of the two death row convicts, but reaffirmed her commitment to "strengthening and elevating" the good bilateral relationship between the two countries.

Australian Opposition leader Bill Shorten said he would speak directly to Bishop before declaring whether the Labour Party would support paying Indonesia for the condemned pair's prison costs.

"But, I do support the government doing whatever it can to prevent this absolutely needless execution going ahead," he said.

The timing of the Bali Nine pair's executions remains unclear, although their transfer to the "execution Island" suggests that they will soon face the firing squad.

Australia's Grand Mufti has become the latest leading voice to call for mercy for the Chan and Sukumaran, and has flown to Indonesia to plead with the country's Religious Affairs Minister.

IANS

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